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Health Sciences Research Basics

Useful tips for research

All databases - Truncation

Truncation

Truncation symbols are shortcut characters which can help to include variations of your text word without having to type each variation into the search separately. The asterisk is the most common truncation symbol.

ASTERISK

Depending on the database or platform, use before (uncommon feature, available in Web of Science and Scopus, for example), within (as a wildcard, depends on database/platform), or at the end of a word root or string (most common option) to replace zero to multiple characters. For more information, please see the search tips (below or within the database/platform help files) on wildcard/truncation options available in commonly used databases or platforms in health sciences

e.g. computer* retrieves computer, computers, computerised, computerized, etc.

Advanced searching tips

The database searching tips are provided for researchers interested in applying more advanced techniques to their searches. Advanced search techniques can include Boolean logic, use of parentheses to force the proper execution of Boolean logic, quotations to force phrase searching or to turn off lemmatization (this is database-dependent), truncation, wildcards, proximity operators, and specifying search fields (such as title, subject, etc.).

CINAHL search tips

Tips for searching CINAHL on EBSCOhost

Truncation/ Wildcards
*
At the end of string of characters, retrieves all variations starting with that string; can also be used within words to find multiple characters, or between words to replace a single word
e.g. computer* retrieves computer, computers, computerised, etc.
within a word to replace a single character
e.g. standardi?ed retrieves standardised or standardized
Note: Question marks at the end of a word are NOT treated as wildcards; they are automatically removed
#
within a word or at the end of a word to replace zero or one character
e.g. colo#r retrieves color, colour
Note: Wildcards and Truncation can now be combined
Phrases/ Parentheses
“ “
Finds exact expression; by default, CINAHL will search for keywords in the entered order
e.g. “occupational therapy”
 
()
specifies the order of the search
e.g. (urban OR city) AND freshwater
Proximity operators
Nn
Near operator
Retrieves records that contain your terms (in any order) within a specified number (n) of words of each other
e.g. (decision* N3 (aid* OR support* OR tool*)) retrieves records that contain phrases with the word decision within five words of either aid* or support* or tool*, in either direction.
 
Wn
Within operator
Finds the words if they are within (n) words of one another and in the order in which you entered them.
e.g. primary W3 care finds articles in which primary precedes care by three or fewer words.
 
Note: to use proximity operators in CINAHL, uncheck "Suggest Subject Headings" if entering an unqualified search (i.e., the default, if you have not selected specific fields to search) or specify the fields in your search query
e.g., TI (decision* N3 (aid* OR support* OR tool*)) OR AB (decision* N3 (aid* OR support* OR tool*))
Search fields (examples)

Default "Select a field (optional)" (i.e., unqualified searching): Searches Title, abstract, subject headings

Note: To execute unqualified searches, uncheck "Suggest Subject Headings"

TX: All Text (in CINAHL Plus with Full Text, will search full text available within the CINAHL database)

TI: Title

e.g., TI ("primary care" OR "primary health care" OR "primary healthcare") 

AU: Author

AF: Author affiliation

AB: Abstract

EM: Entry date (date record was added to the database); can be searched as a range, e.g., EM 20151119- will search for records added on November 19, 2015 to the present 

PT: Publication type

MH: Subject heading

MM: Major subject heading

JN: Publication name (exact)

e.g., JN American journal of nursing retrieves the articles published in American journal of nursing

PY: Year of Publication

e.g., PY 2000 retrieves the articles published in 2000

SU: Subject fields (search terms within subject headings fields, including major subject headings or minor subject headings)

Multiple search fields: Combine with OR

e.g., TI ("primary care" OR "primary health care" OR "primary healthcare") OR AB ("primary care" OR "primary health care" OR "primary healthcare") 

Subject headings

CINAHL Headings

Explode

Represented by the + sign at the end of the subject heading (SH): Expands results to include records with the SH you originally selected, PLUS all of the subject headings in its family hierarchy

e.g., (MH "Pregnancy in Diabetes+") will search for records indexed with "Pregnancy in Diabetes" OR "Diabetes Mellitus, Gestational" OR "Fetal Macrosomia" 

Major concept

Represented by MM (instead of MH): Retrieves articles where indexers consider your topic to be of major significance

e.g., (MM "Pregnancy in Diabetes"); can be combined with Explode, e.g., (MM "Pregnancy in Diabetes+")

Cochrane Library search tips

Tips for searching the Cochrane Library

Truncation/ Wildcards
*
Use to replace one or more characters at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sequence of letters
e.g. computer* retrieves computer, computers, computerised, etc.
 
Use to match 0 or 1 character within or at the end of a word
e.g., standardi?ed retrieves standardised or standardized
e.g., colo?r retrieves color, colour
e.g., system? retrieves system or systems but does not retrieve systematic or systemic
Phrases/ Parentheses
“ “
Finds exact phrase
e.g., “diabetes mellitus”
Note: phrase searching using quotations does NOT support the use of truncation or wildcards; use NEXT in such cases
 
NEXT
Use next in between terms within a phrase to search for phrases that include truncation or wildcards
e.g., hearing NEXT aid?
 
( )
Called nesting; specifies the order of execution of the Boolean logic in the search string
e.g. (urban OR city) AND freshwater
If nesting is not used, the order of precedence is as follows:
All NOT operations first
All AND operations second
All OR operations last
Proximity operators
NEAR, NEAR/x
Near operator
Retrieves records that contain your terms (in any order) within a specified number (n) of words of each other; the default is 6 words if left unspecified
 
e.g. lung NEAR cancer* retrieves records that contain the words lung and cancer* with a maximum of 6 words in between
e.g., primary NEAR/2 care retrieves records that contain the words primary and care with a maximum of 2 words in between
Search fields (examples)

No field specified: Searches all fields, including full text when available (e.g., full text of Cochrane Reviews)

:ti Title

e.g., screening:ti

:ab Abstract

:kw Keywords (includes MeSH terms but does not allow for term explosion)

:au Author

:pt Publication type (used in CENTRAL only)

e.g., journal:pt

:so Source (title of journal, conference name, report name, etc.)

:an Accession number

e.g., (PubMed):an AND 29891957:an

:crg Cochrane Review Group

e.g., "Airways":crg

Multifield searching: Separate the field tags with commas:

:ti,ab,kw

Subject headings

​MeSH

Use the MeSH Tab to search the thesaurus

MeSH terms are assigned to Cochrane Reviews and Trials from MEDLINE

Note: Not necessary to use MeSH terms if you are already using the same MeSH terms in a MEDLINE search for the same project (e.g., if conducting a systematic review and searching multiple databases) -- they are redundant

ERIC on EBSCOhost search tips

Tips for searching ERIC on EBSCO

Truncation/
Wildcards
*
At the end of string of characters, retrieves all variations starting with that string; can also be used within words to find multiple characters, or between words to replace a single word
e.g. computer* retrieves computer, computers, computerised, etc.
within a word to replace a single character
e.g. standardi?ed retrieves standardised or standardized
Note: Question marks at the end of a word are NOT treated as wildcards; they are automatically removed
#
within a word or at the end of a word to replace zero or one character
e.g. colo#r retrieves color, colour
Note: Wildcards and Truncation can now be combined
Phrase/
Parentheses
" "
Use quotations to force the database to search for a phrase, i.e., your search terms in the entered sequence
By default, ERIC will search for keywords in the entered order, but quotations are recommended
 
()
specifies the order of execution of the search
e.g., freshwater AND (urban OR city)
 
Proximity operators
Nn
Near operator
Retrieves records that contain your terms (in any order) within a specified number (n) of words of each other
e.g. health N5 education retrieves records that contain the words health and education within five words of each other in either direction.
 
Wn
Within operator
Finds the words if they are within (n) words of one another and in the order in which you entered them.
e.g. health W5 education finds records in which health precedes education by five or fewer words.
Search fields (examples)

Default "Select a field (optional)": Title, Author, Subjects (Descriptors/Identifiers), Institution Name, Core Subjects, and the Abstract Summary

TX: All Text, searches all of ERIC's searchable fields

TI: Title

AU: Author

AB: Abstract

DE: Subject headings/descriptors (phrase indexed) searches exact subject heading descriptors
e.g., DE individual needs

EM: Entry date in the format CCYY

KW: Keywords or identifiers, performs a keyword search for terms describing the article
e.g., KW Abacuses

JN: Journal name, searches exact journal name
e.g., JN Science Teacher retrieves records of articles published in Science Teacher

LA: Language
e.g., LA English

PY: Year of Publication
e.g., PY 2000 retrieves the articles published in 2000

SU: Subject headings/descriptors (word indexed), searches subject headings that briefly describe the item's content
e.g., SU vocational education

Subject
headings
ERIC Thesaurus; use Thesaurus link in top left-hand corner to find descriptors and to include narrower terms (via Explode)

MEDLINE on Ovid search tips

Tips for searching Ovid MEDLINE

Truncation/
Wildcards
* or $
at the end of string retrieves all suffix variations
e.g., computer* retrieves computer, computers, computerised, etc.
$n
at the end of string retrieves suffix variations of n letters
e.g., hospital$1 retrieves hospital or hospitals (but not hospitalized)
#
within a word or at end of word to replace a single character
e.g., wom#n retrieves woman, women
?
within a word or at the end of a word to replace zero or one character
e.g., colo?r retrieves color, colour
Phrase/
Parentheses
" "
Use quotations to force the database to search for a phrase, i.e., your search terms in the entered sequence
No quotations generally required for phrase searching on Ovid: Phrases are searched as entered, by default
Exceptions: Use quotations around words or phrases containing the following words: and, or, not; limit, map, route, scope, tree
()
specifies the order of execution of the search
e.g., freshwater AND (urban OR city)
 
Proximity and frequency
operators
adjn
retrieves records that contain your terms (in any order) within a specified number (n) of words of each other
n= 1 to 99
e.g., biologist adj5 relationship retrieves records that contain the words biologist and relationship within five words of each other in either order.
 
/freq=n
specifies a term's threshold of occurrence in the records retrieved. Mostly used when you search the full text
e.g., cancer.tw./freq=5 retrieves records in which cancer appears 5 or more times in the .tw. fields (title or abstract)
 
Search fields (examples)

.ab. : Abstract

.au. : Author

.in. : Institution

.kf. : Words or phrases in author keyword field

.jn. : Journal name

e.g., American journal of human biology.jn. retrieves article records from the American Journal of Human Biology

.mp. : "multi-purpose" (database dependent); in MEDLINE, searches ti,ab,ot,nm,hw,fx,kf,ox,px,rx,ui,sy.

.pt. : Publication type

.sh. : MeSH (subject headings in MEDLINE); note: it is preferred to use subject heading mapping to take advantage of exploding a subject heading to include narrower terms

.ti. : Title

.ti,ab,kf. : Title or abstract or author keyword IN MEDLINE

.tw. : Text word, which is usually title or abstract (NOT full text)

.yr. : Year of publication

Subject
headings
exp subject heading/
MeSH terms Explode SH expands results to include records with the SH you originally selected, PLUS all of the narrower subject headings in its family hierarchy
e.g., exp diabetes mellitus, type 1/ searches for records indexed with the subject heading diabetes mellitus, type 1/ or wolfram syndrome/ (wolfram syndrome/ is a narrower term below diabetes mellitus, type 1/)
*subject heading/
Focusing a subject heading retrieves article records in which indexers consider that subject heading to be of major significance
e.g., *diabetes mellitus, type 1/
Note
Explode and focus can be used together or separately
e.g., *diabetes mellitus, type 1/ versus exp diabetes mellitus, type 1/ versus exp *diabetes mellitus,type 1/

ProQuest (platform) search tips

Suggested database on ProQuest:

Tips for searching ProQuest databases

Truncation/ Wildcards

*

At the end or in the middle of a string retrieves variations of a search term (replaces up to 5 characters)

[*n] is used to denote how many characters you want to truncate

e.g., computer* retrieves  computer, computers, computerised, etc.; colo*r retrieves color, colour, colocator

e.g., econom[*2] retrieves economy or economic, but not economies

?

Used to replace any single character either inside or at the right end of a word

 e.g. nurse?

retrieves nurse, nurses, nursed

Lemmatization Used by default; to turn off automatic searching for spelling variants and lemmatiziation, use " "
Phrase/ Parentheses
“ “
Finds words occurring in exact order as entered
e.g. “occupational therapy” 
 
()
Specifies the order of execution of the Boolean logic in the search
e.g., freshwater AND (urban OR city) retrieves records that contain the word freshwater AND the word urban or records that contain the word freshwater AND the word city
 
Proximity operators

NEAR/n

Retrieves records that  contain your terms (in any order) within a  specified number (n) of words of each other. Defaults to a maximum of four words between your terms.

 e.g. biologist NEAR/5  relationship retrieves records that  contain the words biologist and relationship within five words of each other in either direction.

 

Search fields (examples) 

Some search fields are database dependent

To search anywhere in the record, do not specify a search field.

e.g., (tornado* OR hurricane* OR "natural disaster*")

NOFT: Anywhere except full text

e.g., NOFT("physical therapy")

 

ADV: Advisor - available in ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global

AU: Author

AB: Abstract

FT: Searches for terms in body of the article (note: full text is not necessarily available in ProQuest databases)

LA: Language

e.g., LA(french)

PU: Publication title

e.g., PUB(wall street journal)

SCH: School name/code - available in ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global

SU: Subjects (all)

TI: Document title

Search across multiple fields by separating field codes with a comma

e.g., TI,AB,SU("physical therapy")

 

Subject
headings

Database dependent

 

More information on searching in ProQuest

PubMed search tips

Tips for searching PubMed

We recommend switching from Best Match to Most Recent sort order when developing a comprehensive search strategy. Best Match is now the default.

Truncation/ Wildcards
*
At the end of a term/phrase, retrieves variations
e.g., computer* retrieves computer, computers, computerised, etc (but not compute).
 
At least four characters must precede the asterisk for the latter to be used in the query
e.g., if you search for rct*, the asterisk will be ignored 
 
Truncating a term turns off automatic term mapping
 
Wildcards within words or within phrases are not supported.
Lemmatization When automatic term mapping is on, lemmatization is applied using tools including the Specialist Lexicon from UMLS
Phrases/ Parentheses
" "
Finds exact expression
e.g., “primary care”
 
You can also find an exact expression by specifying a search tag after the phrase
e.g., primary care[tw]
 
Or by using hyphens between the terms
e.g., primary-care
 
Truncated phrases without quotations, search tags, or hyphens:
 
In the older version of PubMed, searching occupational therap* (without search tags or quotations) would search for the variants of the phrase (e.g., occupational therapy / occupational therapies / occupational therapist / occupational therapists, but not "physical, occupational, and speech therapy", etc.); in the new version of PubMed, occupational therap* will map occupational to relevant MeSH terms and textword variants (or maybe not) then combine that search with AND with therap* variants in all fields: (((((("occupant"[All Fields] OR "occupant s"[All Fields]) OR "occupants"[All Fields]) OR "occupational"[All Fields]) OR "occupations"[MeSH Terms]) OR "occupations"[All Fields]) OR "occupation"[All Fields]) AND "therap*"[All Fields]
 
Note: Phrases may appear in a PubMed record but not be in the phrase index.
 
( )
Specifies the order of execution of the Boolean logic in the search
e.g., freshwater AND (urban OR city)
Proximity  Not available; use AND instead
Search fields (examples)

Search field codes can be in upper- or lowercase (Boolean operators must be in uppercase)

[mh] or [Mesh] or [MeSH Terms]: MeSH terms

[majr] or [MeSH Major Topic]: MeSH Major Topic

[tiab] or [Title/Abstract]:  Title or abstract or author keywords

[tw] or [Text Word]: Title or abstract or author keywords or entry terms (Note: PubMed does not search full text)

[title] or [ti]: Title

[ot] or [Other Term]: Author keywords

[au]: Author

e.g., Pai M[au] retrieves records listing authors with the first initial or first name starting with M (without middle initials) and last name Pai

[pdat]:  Publication year

[pt]: Publication type

e.g., "randomized controlled trial"[pt]

Subject headings

MeSH terms

Use parentheses around MeSH terms to enforce their exact use

e.g., nursing[mesh] will search for "nursing"[mesh] OR "breast feeding"[mesh], while "nursing"[mesh] will only search for "nursing"[mesh]

To explode MeSH terms: " "[mesh]
PubMed automatically searches for records indexed with the the MeSH heading you are using as well as the more specific (narrower) terms beneath that heading in the MeSH hierarchy
e.g., "Health Services Accessibility"[mesh] will search for records indexed with "Health Services Accessibility"[mesh] OR "Health Equity"[mesh] OR "Right to Health"[mesh] OR "Universal Health Care"[mesh]
 
To turn off the Explode function: " "[mesh:noexp]
In the MeSH Database entry for the term of interest, check off Do not include MeSH terms found below this term in the MeSH hierarchy if you do not want to include narrower subject headings, or enter [mesh:noexp] after the MeSH term of interest
e.g., "Delivery of Health Care"[mesh:noexp]
 
Major topic: [majr]
Retrieves records for articles in which indexers consider your topic to be a main theme
To use this feature, in the MeSH Database entry for the term of interest, check off Restrict to MeSH Major Topic, or enter [majr] after the MeSH term of interest
e.g., "Delivery of Health Care"[majr] ([majr] can be combined with no exploding as well: "Delivery of Health Care"[majr:noexp])

Scopus search tips

Tips for searching Scopus

Truncation/ Wildcards

Wildcards can be used anywhere in the word, even at the beginning

*

Represents any number of characters, even 0

e.g., computer* retrieves computer OR computers OR computerised OR computerized etc.

Represents any single character

e.g., wom?n retrieves woman OR women

Lemmatization Used by default; searching using lemmatization and equivalents can be turned off with curly brackets { }
Phrase/ Parentheses
“ “
Finds words occurring in exact order as entered; can be combined with truncation and wildcards
e.g. “occupational therapy”
 
 
{}
finds exact expression; do not combine with truncation; a hyphenated term can produce different results from a non-hyphenated term
 
()
Specifies the order of execution of the Boolean logic in the search
e.g., freshwater AND (urban OR city) 
 
Proximity operators

PRE/n

Preceded by n

Retrieves articles that contains your words, in your given order, within a specified number (n) of words of each other

 e.g.  primary PRE/1 *care finds articles in which primary precedes care (or, as also relevant, healthcare) by one or fewer words

 W/n

 Within n

 Replaces the n with a  number to specify the maximum number of words that separate the  terms.

 e.g.,  parent* W/5  relationship* finds articles in which parent and relationship  are no more than 5 words apart

Search fields (examples) 

AFFIL() = Affiliation fields, including AFFILCITY OR AFFILCOUNTRY OR AFFILORG

ALL() = Searches full record (ABS, AFFIL, ARTNUM, AUTH, AUTHCOLLAB, CHEM, CODEN, CONF, DOI, EDITOR, ISBN, ISSN, ISSUE, KEY, LANGUAGE, MANUFACTURER, PUBLISHER, PUBYEAR, REF, SEQBANK, SEQNUMBER, SRCTITLE, VOLUME, and TITLE)

AUTH () = Author fields, including AUTHLASTNAME OR AUTHFIRST

PUBYEAR = Publication Year

e.g., PUBYEAR > 2009 searches references published in 2010 or later; PUBYEAR < 2011 searches references published in 2010 or earlier; PUBYEAR = 2010 searches references published in 2010

TITLE () = Title

e.g., TITLE(Therapy) retrieves records in which therapy (or synonyms, based on system's synonym finder, aka lemmatization dictionary) is in the title

TITLE-ABS-KEY() = Title OR Abstract OR Keywords - searches Title OR Abstract OR Keywords, which includes Author Keywords (AUTHKEY) OR Indexing Terms (INDEXTERMS) OR Trade Names (TRADENAME) OR Chemical Names (CHEMNAME)

Subject
headings

Contained in the INDEXTERMS fields

Includes index terms (subject headings) from the following thesauri:

  • Ei Thesaurus (engineering, technology, physical sciences)
  • Emtree medical terms (life sciences, health sciences)
  • MeSH (life sciences, health sciences)
  • GEOBASE Subject Index (geology, geography, earth and environmental sciences)
  • FLX terms
  • WTA terms (fluid sciences, textile sciences)
  • Regional Index (geology, geography, earth and environmental sciences)
  • Species Index (biology, life sciences

Web of Science Core Collection search tips

Tips for searching Web of Science Core Collection

Truncation/ Wildcards
You must enter at least three characters after a wildcard when using left-hand truncation and three characters before a wildcard when using right-hand truncation
 
*
before, within or after word or string to replace multiple characters
e.g., computer* retrieves computer, computers, computerised, etc.
 
?
before, within or after word or string to replace any single character
e.g. wom?n
retrieves woman, women
 
$
before, within or after word or string to replace zero or one character
e.g., colo$r
retrieves color, colour
Lemmatization Used by default in topic (TS) and title (TI) field searches; lemmatization and stemming are not used in combination with quotations or when search terms contain wildcards
Phrase/ Parenthesis
“ “
Finds words occurring in exact order as entered; can be combined with truncation and wildcards
e.g. “occupational therapy”
Note: Turns off lemmatization and synonym finder (what is lemmatization?)
 
()
Specifies the order of execution of the Boolean logic in the search
e.g., freshwater AND (urban OR city)
Proximity operators
NEAR/n
Replaces the n with a number to specify the maximum number of words that separate the terms.
e.g., biologist NEAR/5 relationship
Finds articles in which biologist and relationship are no more than 5 terms apart
Note: You cannot use NEAR/n in between two sets of terms both containing more than one term
e.g., TS=(drug$ OR rapid) NEAR/1 (detect* OR screen* OR test*)) will not work but TS=((drug$ NEAR/1 (detect* OR screen* OR test*)) OR (rapid NEAR/1 (detect* OR screen* OR test*))) will
 
SAME
In address searches, use SAME to restrict your search to terms that appear in the same address within a full record
e.g., AD= ("Family Medicine" SAME McGill)
Retrieves records in which "Family Medicine" appears in the same address field as McGill
Search fields (examples)

TI= Title

e.g., TI=(Therapy) retrieves records in which therapy (or related terms based on lemmatization and spelling variants) is in the title

TS = Topic - searches Title, Abstract, Author Keywords, and Keywords Plus (more information)

AB = Abstract (lemmatization does not work when specifically searching this field)

AK = Author keywords (lemmatization does not work when specifically searching this field)

KP = Keywords Plus (lemmatization does not work when specifically searching this field) (more information)

AD = Address (more information)

AU = Author (more information)

PY = Year Published

Subject
headings

Not available

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